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Underwood rocks, croons at coliseum

She packs country, pop, rock into one flashy, exuberant show.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008 - 10:45 am

Carrie Underwood channeled her inner Axl Rose on Tuesday night at Memorial Coliseum - and brought down the house.

There was the sweet-faced 2005 “American Idol” winner who was recently invited to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry - rocking out onstage with her band to Guns N' Roses' “Paradise City.”

Suddenly the girl better known for crooning “Jesus, Take the Wheel” was swaying her hips and belting out the lyrics like GNR frontman Rose. Didn't we come to see a country singer?

We did - but Underwood proved to be a lot more, at times morphing from a country crooner to a pop diva to rock star. Country purists would probably be aghast, but this near-capacity crowd wasn't discriminating.

Underwood's exuberant show seemed to be just the pickup Fort Wayne needed after a long, hard winter.

She even showed up sort of like a flower does in the spring - rising up on a platform from under the stage.

Dressed in pencil-thin black slacks and a glittery black top she got the show rolling, strutting across the stage in towering stilettos singing “Wasted.”

With her trademark blond mane and jaw-dropping good looks, Underwood would probably stand out in a crowd in sweats and sneakers.

But apparently Underwood remained incognito while in Fort Wayne.

Early on in the show she let us know she and her entourage had been in town a few days before the concert, and even spent Easter here. It must have been the best-kept secret in town.

After a few songs she disappeared backstage for a couple of minutes and reappeared standing on a platform lit from below, which illuminated the bottom of the voluminous blue gown she was wearing. Shots of the gown up close on the monitors made it appear that the garish frock was made of melted plastic - or perhaps molten lava.

Underwood, who is probably as pretty and as close to a real-life Barbie doll as anyone will ever be, sort of looked like a Barbie on that platform, which is where she sang “Jesus, Take the Wheel.” The puzzling glowing blue dress distracted from the song.

But not long after she changed outfits again, and came out wearing jeans and a tank top.

This felt like the real Carrie, and sure enough, she sang “I Ain't in Checotah Anymore,” a tribute to her hometown of Checotah, Okla., which, she noted, is smaller in population than the number of people in attendance at the concert.

In a nod to the man who formally invited her to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry, she did a lovely cover of Randy Travis' “I Told You So.”

At the end of the concert, but before the encore, she stepped on the magic platform and sank under the stage. A couple of minutes later up she popped again, this time wearing a silver jacket for her encore. This must have been rock star Carrie.

Underwood is so cute, so personable and talented it's impossible to see her has a hard-core rocker.

Even when she closed the show with “Before He Cheats,” her revenge fantasy song about digging her keys into the side of her ex-boyfriend's car, she still managed to look cute.

That's part of Underwood's appeal to Angie and Tom Sweet, who brought their three daughters to the concert, ages 5, 9 and 12.

“My girls all look up to her,” Tom Sweet said. “She takes care of herself. She promotes a good image.”

Angie Sweet added that Underwood is not like Britney Spears or Paris Hilton.

The Sweets got the opportunity to meet Underwood backstage before the show, courtesy of a local radio station. Their youngest daughter, Aleigha, 5, has cancer and, due to chemotherapy, has no hair.

Angie Sweet said Underwood was not put off at all by Aleigha's lack of hair, and even put her arm around the shy girl.

“She tried her hardest to get Aleigha to talk,” Angie Sweet said.

Underwood's performance wasn't the only one of the night. Country singer Josh Turner opened the show on a mellow note.

Whereas Underwood's show was all about lights, flash and glitter, Turner's performance was more pure country. Dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, the unassuming country star with the low, low voice was anything but flashy. He opened with “Firecracker.”

With Turner, less seemed to be more. His understated style and deep, sexy voice were a hit with the women in the audience - especially when he sang “Baby lock the door and turn the lights down low …”

Torrey Curry brought his girlfriend, Carrie Best, to the show for her birthday present. She was more excited to see Underwood, but Curry came to see Turner.

“He's not super hyper. He's not a big show,” Curry said during the intermission.

At the end of the concert his opinion hadn't changed. He said Underwood's concert was “entertaining” - but he still liked Turner better.